Health & Lifestyle

The microplastics lurking in your home – and how to avoid them (and why it might be time to buy a wooden chopping board)

  • The average person could be ingesting a credit card worth of plastic every week
  • Microplastics has been linked to inflammation, respiratory problems and cancer

From kitchen utensils to home furnishings and even children’s toys, microplastics  are everywhere — although you won’t be able to see them.

Perhaps most alarmingly, tiny shreds of man-made material have even made their way into our food, water and air that we breathe. 

In fact, the average person may be ingesting 5g of plastics a week — equivalent to eating a credit card, researchers say.

Studies have linked microplastics to the development of cancer, heart disease and dementia, as well as fertility problems. And there are fears they cause babies to be born dangerously underweight, but scientists admit the long-term effects are still a mystery.

So, how can you avoid them in your home? We asked the experts…  

Experts say you can cut your exposure to microplastics by swapping out plastics in your home for natural materials, metal and glass

Experts say you can cut your exposure to microplastics by swapping out plastics in your home for natural materials, metal and glass

Cleaning 

Even dust sitting in the crevices of your home can contain microplastics, particles that are less than 5mm wide. 

In 2019 scientists estimated that about 16 bits of microplastics enter our airways every hour.

Inevitably, some of this comes from exposure in our own homes, given we spend so much time there. So, in theory, vacuuming and dusting regularly will help stop you ingesting as much. 

But be careful what you use to clean, because you could unknowingly be making the problem even worse. 

Cleaning items like sponges, microfiber cloths and kitchen brushes made from man-made fibres all shed microplastics as you use them, studies show.

Instead, experts recommend using products made of natural fibres, such as cotton and linen. 

‘There are a wide range of fibres, synthetic polymer-based ones and natural ones,’ says Professor Stefan Krause, an expert in ecohydrology and biogeochemistry at the University of Birmingham.

‘I think it is most important to create products that shed as little particles or fibres as possible.’

The average person could be ingesting about 5g of plastics a week, which is the equivalent to eating a credit card

The average person could be ingesting about 5g of plastics a week, which is the equivalent to eating a credit card

Scientists in 2019 estimated that about 16 tiny bits of microplastics enter out airways every hour and some of this is in our homes. So, vacuuming and dusting some of these microplastics away will help reduce this

Scientists in 2019 estimated that about 16 tiny bits of microplastics enter out airways every hour and some of this is in our homes. So, vacuuming and dusting some of these microplastics away will help reduce this

Avoid plastic chopping boards

Although convenient and easy to clean, you might want to consider swapping your plastic chopping board for a wooden one. 

That’s because you could be ingesting microplastics just from chopping your food, as evidenced by the deep grooves and slash marks from mincing and slicing on the cutting boards. 

A 2023 American Chemical Society study found plastic boards to be a substantial source of microplastics in human food. 

Scientists measured the tiny particles released from plastic chopping boards which had been repeatedly struck with a kitchen knife. 

They compared five people’s chopping patterns on a plastic board, as well as other materials, while chopping carrots.

Food preparation could, their results suggested, produce 14 to 71 million pieces of one type of microplastic and 79 million of another from their respective boards each year. 

Professor Krause says using a plastic chopping board could increase your exposure to microplastics in your food and says wooden boards would cause ‘less micro-plastic generation through abrasion’. 

You could be ingesting a huge amount of microplastics just from chopping your food on a plastic board

You could be ingesting a huge amount of microplastics just from chopping your food on a plastic board

Avoid non-stick pans

Non-stick pans have already been linked to the dangers of forever chemicals, but these cookware might also be releasing thousands of microplastics into your food. 

Just a tiny scratch on a non-stick Teflon-coated pan could shed more than 9,000 microplastics, according to a 2022 study

Australian researchers developed an algorithm to count how many tiny particles are released by such invisible scratches caused by day to day use. 

Using this algorithm, researchers estimated that as many as 2.3million microscopic pieces of plastic could be released in the time it takes to cook a meal if the non-stick coating on a pan is broken.  

Using stainless-steel, cast-iron or ceramic pots and pans is the best way to avoid extra exposure to microplastics, according to experts. 

Filter water

In Europe about 72 per cent of tap water samples contains plastic fibres, according to an analysis by WWF in 2019. 

It’s even worse in the US, with 95 per cent of samples found to contain plastics.  

But boiling and filtering water is one way of stripping the majority of these microplastics from what we drink.

Researchers from Jinan University in China discovered that boiling water then filtering it with a coffee filter removed almost 90 per cent of microplastics that are linked to cancer and reproductive disorders. 

These microplastics are so ubiquitous they were found in 129 of 159 tap water samples from 14 countries worldwide in the study.

Researchers found boiling water was particularly effective when used on ‘hard’ water, or water with large concentrations of minerals like calcium and magnesium.

At high temperatures, limescale will become solid, effectively ‘encrusting’ the plastic particles, and making them easier to remove through a filter, the study found. 

Buy natural fibres 

Many of our homes are draped in plastic materials, from the clothes we wear to our cushions, curtains, carpets and even children’s cuddly toys. 

While cheaper than natural alternatives man-made fibres can make their way into dust and the air we breathe in our homes. 

Professor Fay Couceiro, an expert in environmental pollution at the University of Plymouth, explains that people exposed to extremely high microplastic concentrations could develop asthma-like symptoms, tissue damage and fibrosis.

But she reassured that you are unlikely to reach these toxic levels outside of an industrial setting where such fabrics are manufactured. 

However, making a few swaps in your home will reduce the amount you breathe in, she says. 

‘Carpets have been associated with an increased number of microplastics in the air in homes, so swapping to non plastics carpets or removing carpets could reduce microplastics numbers,’ Professor Couceiro told MailOnline. 

In Europe about 72 per cent of tap water samples contained plastic fibres, according to analysis by WWF in 2019

In Europe about 72 per cent of tap water samples contained plastic fibres, according to analysis by WWF in 2019

She stressed that this doesn’t just stop at carpets, other home furnishings such as sofa covers and cushions can also be swapped to natural fibres. 

Professor Couceiro added: ‘Many of our clothes are also plastic, so moving away from polyester and nylon clothing would also reduce the number of microplastics you are coming in contact with.

‘These changes would reduce the number of microplastics you are breathing in.’

Making these changes might even reduce the number of microplastics you are eating, she explained. 

That’s because you can either breathe them in and swallow them or the microplastics can fall onto your food.  

removing the packaging from microwave meals or microwave in the packet vegetables and instead cooking the food in glass or ceramic cookware, could help cut the risk of microplastics

removing the packaging from microwave meals or microwave in the packet vegetables and instead cooking the food in glass or ceramic cookware, could help cut the risk of microplastics

Avoid single use packaging 

It’s almost impossible to avoid plastic on food in modern life. 

Fruit, veg, meat and microwave meals are all wrapped in plastic that we can end up eating, inadvertently. 

But avoiding single use packaging, such as bottled water and ready meals, could help reduce how much you end up consuming. 

‘Foods may have microplastics within them but that is not something we can avoid,’ warns Professor Couceiro.

‘What we can do is reduce the extra microplastics that come from plastic packaging, cooking with plastic utensils or even cooking in the plastic itself.’

To reduce your consumption of microplastics she suggests removing all single use packaging. 

For example, removing the packaging from microwave meals or microwave in the packet vegetables and instead cooking the food in glass or ceramic cookware.

She adds that not using plastic spatulas or other kitchen utensils could help.  


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